Self Reliance Movie Plot Explained: The True Meaning of the Film

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Andy Samberg and Anna Kendrick in Self Reliance movie

For those who just watched Hulu’s new movie, Self Reliance, and are looking for a rundown on its shocking plot, this is the place to be.

The recently released film is Jake Johnson’s feature directorial debut. The story follows Tommy, a middle-aged man who is going through a hard time, only to be randomly selected in a dangerous game show that could change his life forever.

While this might sound dangerous to some, it does not stop Tommy from jumping into the deep end.

How Self Reliance’s Dark Web Game Show Begins

Jake Johnson in Self Reliance

The sweeping plot of Self Reliance finds Jake Johnson’s Tommy in a rough spot. He lives with his mother, is still not over his ex-girlfriend, and simply cannot catch a break. But then, one day, he randomly gets picked up by actor Andy Sandberg in a limo.

Sandberg is hired to tell Tommy he has been selected as the contestant in a new game show for the dark web, where he will be hunted by hitmen at every turn. Deciding this is just the change-up he needs in his life, he accepts the offer to hear more.

After being dropped off by the limo at a warehouse, two accented men go over the rules. Hunters, aka actual assassins, will be chasing Tommy wherever he goes for 30 days. If they succeed, he dies—but if he lives, he will get one million dollars.

They also share how the entire ordeal will be filmed, with stealth ninjas going around.

Thankfully, no one else will be in danger—Tommy will only be attacked if he’s alone. No one else’s will be caught in the crossfire.

Despite its danger, Tommy accepts. He is confident there is a loophole to exploit: if he is never alone, and someone is with him at all points, he will be safe.

Surviving the Dark Web's Game

Unsurprisingly, Tommy’s family does not believe the dark web is hunting him. According to them, this could just be another made-up story he made to cope with his own emotions, which he has done in the past.

While Tommy tries hard to convince his family and friends to help protect him, he ultimately fails. This leads him to resort to paying a local homeless man, James (played by Biff Wiff) to accompany him at all times.

This seems to work for a while as the two slowly become good friends.

There is a hiccup, though, as, at one point, Tommy gets fired from his job and thrown out of his mother’s place. Not long after, Tommy is almost killed outside of a bar when James is late.

Eventually, Tommy sees a post on Craigslist—someone else claims to be playing the game. The two agree to meet in person, and it’s here where Jake Johnson’s character meets Anna Kendrick’s Maddy.

They bond and it seems like the duo could have a real connection. Maddy even helps Tommy get over his ex by visiting her house and having the confrontation he had been avoiding.

The pair eventually come into contact with another supposed player portrayed by GaTa. He claims the dark web show is called Delusions of Grandeur, and it’s a comedy created to mock people struggling with self-doubt.

This is enough to convince Maddy that she needs space—which doesn’t add up, given the rules of the game. But, as Eduardo Franco’s ninja production warned earlier in the film, Maddy should not be trusted.

The Final Stretch of the Self Reliance Movie

Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick in Self Reliance movie

Not long after Maddy leaves, Tommy is told to get in another limo. To his surprise, his long-absent father, played by Christopher Loyd, is there waiting for him.

He reveals he was escorted onto a private plane by Wayne Brady to come here and have this moment with Tommy. He apologizes for how he left his son while also affirming that he currently lives a happy life in Ohio.

After getting that long-awaited closure, Tommy heads to Maddy’s, where she drops a bomb, she was never a part of the game. She lied out of loneliness, wanting just to have a little fun and go along with it—not realizing that he thought it was all real.

The denial does not stop there. Tommy has to rush home to his family, who have secretly staged an intervention. He quickly finds a way to escape and runs off to James to have one last emotional moment with him before the ninja production assistants take the homeless man out of the game (do not worry, he is not dead).

How Did Tommy's Story End?

After James’ leave of absence, Tommy is told to find a limo so he can be taken to the grand finale.

Before it all goes down, Andy Sandberg shows up to offer him a choice: Tommy can safely exit the game and go home if he chooses to. But he is so close to the end; he cannot just quit now.

After one last chase sequence featuring a sumo wrestler, Sinbad, and Samurai, Tommy successfully lives through the game—one, it’s revealed, that was designed specifically for him.

Since Tommy lived, he won the million-dollar prize money. Sadly, the cash is in Danish krone and not USD.

This means he only actually won about $145,000; it’s still a lot, but not $1 million.

Despite getting Wayne Brady to come along to help prove his story to his family, Tommy’s kin still do not seem to believe his tall tale. It's a good thing for them he survived it all in the first place.

The movie ends with Tommy knocking on Maddy’s door, but audiences don’t learn if she answers.

It’s important to note how many might interpret the movie as being all a delusion made up by Tommy, but director Jake Johnson confirmed the game was intended to be very much a real thing.

Self Reliance is now available on Hulu.

- In This Article: Self Reliance
Release Date
January 12, 2024
Andy Samberg
Anna Kendrick
Jake Johnson
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.